ST. PETERSBURG — A week or so from now, the Rays lineup could have a different, extremely needed and very much improved look.
That’s what adding Manuel Margot, Wander Franco and Harold Ramirez could do.
A lot has to go right, starting with no setbacks during the final stages of rehab to Margot’s right knee (patellar tendon strain), Franco’s right hand (surgery to repair broken hamate bone) and Ramirez’s right thumb (fractured by a pitch).
No additional issues, like leg muscle tightness from not having run the bases at full speed. No rain, to delay minor-league rehab games. No freak occurrences, like Brandon Lowe getting hit in the helmet by a pitch in his first rehab at-bat at Triple-A Durham.
But if all goes well, a lineup that has been sputtering for much of the season, and struggling mightily of late — three or fewer runs in 13 of the first 18 post All-Star break games — should be notably more productive.
Ramirez, hurt in the final game before the break, had emerged as the Rays’ top offensive player, posting a team-high .329 average and .825 OPS, and a contact oriented approach (13.6 percent strikeout rate) that kept rallies going. And he is likely to be the first one back.
Before being sidelined in late June, Margot had been one of their most overall productive players, hitting .302 with a .788 OPS in 51 games, having missed some time earlier with a hamstring strain.
Franco, the most dynamic of the three, had been feeling better at the plate before he was hurt in early July, working to get back into a groove after missing a month, and being limited before that with quad and other lower leg issues. Still, anything close to his .260 average and .704 OPS will be an upgrade over the .170/.539 replacement Taylor Walls has been putting up (while playing usually spectacular defense).
And that’s just the obvious benefits. There also should be a definite intangible boost to the confidence and collective psyche of the bruised and battered team to see the three players return, to have the chatter and buzz back in the corner of the clubhouse where they have adjacent lockers.
“It’s going to be very important to have those guys (back),” said outfielder Randy Arozarena, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “All of them hopefully will start like they finished when they went down. They’re going to be important parts of gaining ground in this division. I hope that they can come back quickly and reinforce us as quickly as possible.”
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Arozarena should benefit personally, as will Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz and Lowe, the four accomplished hitters who have been anchoring the lineup. Also, recent additions David Peralta and Jose Siri, who haven’t yet done much to help.
“It makes the game a lot more easier knowing that those (three) guys are in the lineup for you, to protect you,” Arozarena said.
With the talented trio back, expect to see less of Walls, Yu Chang (.218, .625 overall in 2022), Isaac Paredes (.217, .745), Roman Quinn (.219, .603) and Luke Raley (.190, .580).
All-Star starter Shane McClanahan is among those eager to see how it all works out.
“We’ve got guys coming back soon and we’re just all excited for that,” he said. “For everyone to get healthy, and just try to win a lot of ballgames.”
Brett Phillips makes his mark
Seminole native Brett Phillips — whose Aug. 1 Twitter goodbye video got more than 705,000 views — got an expected warm welcome from fans and former teammates in returning to Tropicana Field on Friday with his new Orioles team, and a nice-touch tribute video on the scoreboard.
Phillips has said mostly all the right things, such as publicly thanking Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander for trading him to the Orioles — given his career-best numbers at Camden Yards — rather than a less comfortable situation or putting him on waivers after designating him for assignment.
“It just solidified everything I believed about Erik and the front office,” he said. “They’re top-notch people and it was just an absolute pleasure playing for them.”
Phillips did note on Friday that “I’m off to bigger and better” with the Orioles, and “a great opportunity” for his career.
In Baltimore, Phillips has been staying with reliever Joey Krehbiel, who also was his teammate at Seminole High.
Brandon Lowe and wife Madison announced on Instagram last week that they are expecting their first child in February. They are planning a gender reveal event; Brandon assured it won’t be the one where the dad hits a ball and it explodes into either pink or blue powder. … One important twist to the new playoff plan: There are no more Game 163s, so season series are the first tiebreakers; the Rays and Orioles are 9-9 going into play Sunday. … In a stretch of playing 17 consecutive days, the Rays may opt to work in a bullpen day or spot start (Luis Patino?) to provide an extra rest day for the starters. ... Korean interpreter Daniel Park was a good sport about being a guest participant in Wednesday’s in-game sausage mascot race in Milwaukee, running as the Polish sausage and finishing fourth, of five. … Randy Arozarena’s younger brother, Raiko, the backup goalie for the Rays-owned Rowdies soccer team, was last month loaned to the Forward Madison (Wisc.) SC team to continue his developmennt with more playing time. … The Rays dropped from second to third in ESPN’s post-trade deadline updated farm system rankings, with Kiley McDaniel noting they kept most of their prospects and had “another deep draft even with head-scratching first-rounder (first baseman) Xavier Isaac.” … The Rays will make three West Coast trips, per a version of the 2023 schedule that will be released this week, two with just a week in between in June.
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